Newark mayor imposes new restrictions as Covid-19 cases surge

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New Jersey’s largest city is starting to wind back the clock on its economic reopening.

With cases spiking statewide, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka on Monday ordered non-essential businesses and restaurants to shut down indoor service after 8 p.m., effective Tuesday. Beauty salons, nail salons and barbershops will be able to offer their services by appointment only and gyms and health clubs have been ordered to close for at least 30 minutes each day for sanitization.

In addition, recreational centers are being closed to any non-school activities and in the East Ward, where viral spread is accelerating, parks are being closed to scheduled sporting events and practices.

“This is not the first time COVID-19 has threatened our city and its residents at this magnitude and once again, we will meet this challenge with determination and guided by data,” Baraka said in a statement Monday morning. “We are Newark strong and can get through this together. We did it once before and we can do it again.”

Why it matters: While Gov. Phil Murphy for weeks has said he’s weighing “scalpel”-like measures to rein in the state’s declining public health picture, and that the state is the ultimate authority on Covid-19-related restrictions, Baraka’s new orders go further.

Even so, the Murphy administration is working with Baraka and local officials to bolster testing and contact tracing capacities, Communications Director Mahen Gunaratna said in an interview on Monday. That collaboration is also extending to law enforcement efforts to assure compliance with social distancing orders in hotspot communities.

New Jersey reported more than 3,100 new coronavirus cases over the weekend and its spot positivity rate, which was hovering between 1 percent and 3 percent for most of the summer and early fall, is now above 5 percent.

In Newark, among the U.S. cities hardest hit by the pandemic, more than 11 percent of Covid-19 tests came back with positive results on Sunday. In one East Ward zip code, spot positivity exceeded 25 percent.

More than 24,000 residents of Essex County, where Newark is located, have tested positive for Covid-19 since March 4, the day New Jersey recorded its first case. Of those, at least 2,140 have died.

Key context: While other local governments have taken independent steps to curb Covid-19 cases in recent weeks — a handful of municipalities banned trick-or-treating, despite Murphy’s greenlight to celebrate Halloween with a few social distancing modifications — Newark’s new order is considerably more aggressive.

Baraka raised eyebrows in the early days of the pandemic when he instituted a local curfew prior to Murphy’s March 21 stay-at-home order.

Newark is also home to the state’s largest public school district. Last week, local officials announced that they would be delaying the start in-person instruction through the start of the new year.

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